How to Start and Finish your Story (without the guilt of falling off the wagon)

> Here’s my dilemma: I start a new novel every two years. I get 50-75
> pages into it and I start to lose interest or get a new job or start
> exercising again or get a new flat-screen or …. Ok. You get the
> picture. I’ve started working on a new novel now. I’m determined.
> I even unplugged the television. Any advice??????

First piece of advice, don’t start at Page #1.

Make sure dramatic structure applies to the basic structure of your story…

If Freytag’s Triangle is new to you, click here and start reading.

One of the things I’ve been seeing consistently with novel submissions from many first time novelists is that they’ve put together a story with some interesting scenes and character sketches but has no actual structure to it. Simply put, when that happens the characters don’t know where to go, what to do, or even WHY they’re doing it. Once at that point the writer runs the risk of having everything feel forced or, more commonly, the novel’s momentum completely stalls out and ends up in a proverbial desk drawer.

> Ok. Max. This is some good stuff. I took a look at the Wiki article also. I’ve
> generally approached novel writing as an “attack the head first” approach. But
> perhaps a “soft underbelly” may be the most efficient point of inital attack.
> Max, and others, are you suggesting perhaps writing the climax first?…

Glad the approach is working for you…

Personally, I tend to write stories alot like a film production. Movies are rarely ever filmed in chronological order but schedule their shooting based on a variety of factors. Sometimes major actors have prior contractual agreements (e.g. – also on a TV show) and the shooting schedules partially overlap so they shoot scenes that particular actor isn’t in. Sometimes if a movie takes place across several remote locations the production team will spend up to a few months in each location, shooting all the applicable scenes, then shoot the remainder on sets in a soundstage.

When it comes to your question about writing the climax first I’d say that’s more of a judgment call on your part. If your main climax is built up from a complex chain of events that cause all the characters and events to converge, then yes, writing the main climax first might be the best move. By writing that climax first you can define all the contributing factors then work backwards with each element.

Let’s take that movie “Castaway” (starring Tom Hanks) for example. Because this was about him being stranded on a deserted island, the first major climax in that story is when the flight he was on crashed into the Pacific ocean. By writing that climax first (or very early on in the writing process) you could define what items he has on him at the time of the crash (like the pocketwatch heirloom his girlfriend gave him with her face inside) and then work backwards to define the girlfriend and their relationship as well as all the events leading up to why he was on that fateful flight. Because a majority of the rest of the movie takes place on that island, this climax also defines some of the pieces of civilization that wash ashore with him, establishing certain themes that carry through the rest of the movie (e.g. – Wilson the volleyball).

At other times I’m prone to map the basic chain events but write the most powerful scenes first. Sometimes it’s because they’re critical lynch-pins to the rest of the story. Other times it’s because the scene required research and all that reading is fresh in my mind. Still, other times I might write that first major climax before anything else because it also affords me the chance to make the story leading up to that climax less predictable and I can better control the pace leading up to that climax. another thing I’ve noticed is that if I’m writing a story in a linear fashion, sometimes I have a bad habit of “telegraphing my punch” as far as the upcoming climax is concerned. Not sure if I do it because I’m anxious to get to the climax or that it’s hard to keep it a secret, but when it comes to working backwards it’s easier to remember “Okay, the reader wouldn’t know _______ at this point.” so it’s easy to conceal things (even verbiage that hints at something coming) and make for a bigger surprise once the reader reads it linearly.

Hope that helps… good luck with it.